SUN VALLEY >> For more than a half-century, any poor San Fernando Valley grease head who needed a part for his aging clunker would make a pilgrimage to U Pick Parts.
And any TV scout or Hollywood filmmaker who needed a shot of a megajunkyard — often of a wild-eyed captive bound in a car trunk about to be flattened by a screeching crusher — would send a camera crew out to Sun Valley.
Now the 261/2-acre yard also known as Aadlen Brothers Auto Wrecking that has drained, tossed, ripped, shredded and pulled apart L.A.’s favorite conveyance for the past 53 years will itself be turned into auto scrap. Its up to 4,000 cars, trucks and other collectibles are all being sold before it closes Jan. 1.
“Dealing with the business and personal stuff, it’s just too much,” said Nathan B. Adlen, who employs almost 80 workers, some as old as 77, among a warren of a half-century of collectibles. “The one thing that really hurts me is that we have some employees who have worked here for a very long time.
“For my employees, that’s the saddest. I know when it’s gone it’ll hit me. ... I know that someday I may start crying.”
JUNK OR GOLD?
Flashback to 1962, when freeways were being laid across Los Angeles. Cars were king. Their owners were handy. And families poured into the growing San Fernando Valley, where they often perused showrooms for the latest car models.
That’s when a street fighter from East Los Angeles known as “Big Sam” Adlen and his brother Donnie opened their wrecking yard atop an old Tuxford Pitt landfill. As big as a city block, it soon became a cemetery for “end of life” cars.
And a field of gold for any teen on wheels who needed parts.
Tommy Gelinas once spent hours wading through the derelict hulks of U-Pick Parts, plucking radio knobs, badges and interior bits for his proud first ride, a 1968 Dodge Dart.
“It’s a landmark,” said Gelinas, the owner of a T-shirt print shop and founder of Valley Relics Museum in Chatsworth. “I would think that most everyone who’s ever owned a car in the Valley has pulled a door handle, radiator, starter or hard-to-get part out of that junk.
“A lot of people are sad. A lot of people loved the way it does business — friendly people always willing to help.”
At its peak, as many as 25,000 junkers a year were crushed and dismantled at the northeast Valley yard, Adlen said, with as many as 100 cars a day streaming in during the Great Recession’s government cash-for-clunkers buybacks.
Its acres of car heaps soon became a favorite of Paramount, Universal, Columbia and other studios, its ruins featured in hundreds of movies, TV shows, music videos and commercials.
L.A.’s possibly largest and most popular junkyard was not only a star in such big-screen features as “Escape From L.A.,” “In Cold Blood” and “Hangover.”
It’s been featured on countless TV shows, from the 1960s-era L.A. cop drama “Adam-12” to the 1970s-era “CHiPS,” Adlen said. In the past six weeks alone, Aadlen Bros. has served as sets — sometimes for the second time — for “Supergirl,” “Criminal Minds,” “Rizzoli & Isles” and “NCIS: Los Angeles.”
After releasing his 1998 single hit “My Way,” Usher gussied up a 53-foot junkyard trailer to look like a giant boom box before boogying on it for his music video.
The reality TV show “Fear Factor” once had contestants struggling for keys in running junkyard cars — in the wake of a 10,000-pound monster truck.
“Anytime you saw a wrecking yard on TV or in film, it was probably here,” said Andrew Adlen, who works for his cousin Nathan at the business located at both 11590 Tuxford Ave. and 11409 Penrose St. By a back gate reads a sign: “We (heart) junk cars.”
Now the intake of junk cars has fallen to roughly 15,000 a year, the Adlens say. And they have decided to shut down their wrecking business because of costly pending government and environmental regulations, including Affordable Care Act insurance for their employees, rising minimum wages, a stormwater runoff permit and family estate taxes.
The empty lot will be for sale or rent, they said. But a buyer might be tough because of groundwater pollution tied to it and northeast Valley defense industries.
When it’s gone, just one pick-apart junkyard will be left in the Valley, Pick Your Part, in Sun Valley.
So everything must go — including a car excavator and shear ($20,000), a car crusher ($25,000), a historic Santa Fe Railroad caboose, a Russian-made jeep captured in Egyptian sands during the 1967 war, a bison head trophy ($2,000), a nonrunning British double-decker bus ($1,000) and a Fender guitar and coffin case ($200), one of many goodies that were taken from junked cars.
Bruce, the 25-foot-long Universal Studios castoff that is the only surviving shark from the mold that was used in “Jaws,” may be given to a new Los Angeles film museum.
And Gelinas, who once picked for parts, was allowed some picks from history for his Valley Relics Museum.
They include a vintage Helms Bakery Truck given to Nathan Adlen by his father, who once dreamed of being a Helms driver; an “Old Shoe” car likely used to draw patrons into Valley shoe stores, and the Googie-style steel arches that once soared 86 feet over Studio City Car Wash.
“It’s a huge score for the museum and historic preservation,” said Gelinas, who now drives a ’64 Chevelle and a ’66 Ford Fairlane. “We don’t want them to go to scrap.”